Six words. I love this book so much. When I wrote my first thoughts on it, I had read only the first part of six and only 89 pages of 568. I had thought that those initial stories were the beginnings of character development and possibly a larger story. (I know, I plunge into a book without ever reading the description at the back until I’ve finished the whole thing. I like to be surprised and to follow the path the author intended for the reader, rather than go into it prepared.)
What thrilled me at first was the prospect of learning where Perec was going, or if he really was going anywhere. Then as chapters flew by, I realized the book wasn’t deepening but expanding. Like a tree shooting twigs out from its trunk. Some long, some short, others growing out of other branches. Some more interestingly-shaped, curiouser, than others. This book is a treasure trove of stories! Revenge, mystery, adventure! I was reminded of One Thousand and One Nights. One of my favourite stories, for example, was of a certain Carel van Loorens, a man on a mission for Napoleon I who abandons his duty to save the daughter of a Prussian count from being held prisoner in Algiers as the sixteenth wife of the most famous of the Barbary corsairs.
But I digress. While the book expands through the stories it tells, it is, in fact, suspended in one moment in time. Each room caught as a snapshot all at the exact same time. The stories, instead, spring out of things. They are that which are contained in the objects within these rooms. The paintings/illustrations/photographs on the wall. Books being read, or lying about. Articles of clothing, jewelry, furniture, chinaware, food, lamps, letters, quilts, rugs, mirrors, boxes, and all kinds of imaginable odds and ends. Typical, everyday things. The histories these things carry. Who used to own them, where they came from, what significance they bore in the past.
It’s ironic to say Life A User’s Manual is a celebration of life because most of the lives these people living in the building at 11 Rue Simon-Crubellier have are sad, to say the least. But life is what it is. Crazy, tragic, funny, often futile. What do all these comings and goings, the eating, drinking, making merry, marrying, separating, having children, not having children, loving, being loved, avenging, boasting, hiding, saving, leaving, keeping, all amount to?
Georges Perec has done a magnificent job with this novel. Anyone up for reading his book without the letter e, A Void?
I chose Jean Dubuffet’s painting above, La Vie de Famille (1936), because it looks like a jigsaw puzzle, and because I love Dubuffet and he is mentioned in the book. Maybe even more than literature, references to art abound in it.
There are so many other things I want to touch on, because, really, this book is so rich and so complex. Thankfully, some of the other bloggers I’m reading along with have saved me the trouble:
Life A User’s Manual by Georges Perec was translated from the French by David Bellos.